In times of distress, we turn to comfort food: Hearty, delicious, artery-clogging goodness that warms us up from the inside out and just makes the world a better place in general. The world is in a bad way right now, so many of us are turning to our favorite comfort food dishes to help us get through this trying time. And no region does comfort food quite like the South. Fried chicken, gooey mac and cheese, chicken-fried steak, grits … the list goes on and on. But one of the best comfort foods to come out of the South has to be good, old-fashioned biscuits and sausage gravy.
This quintessential Southern breakfast dish is about as American as it gets: The Farmer’s Almanac looked into the origins of this iconic meal and found that it’s been around since the Revolutionary War. Because it doesn’t require many ingredients and is incredibly filling, it was the perfect, extremely caloric breakfast to fill people up before long days of work, especially in the logging camps of Appalachia (gravy is also known by another name: sawmill gravy). And biscuits and gravy really is all about the good stuff: fresh-from-the-oven, fluffy, steaming biscuits heaped high with a rich, creamy sauce and mouthwatering sausage. Although early sawmill gravy was done with bacon drippings, the recipe has evolved to typically use pork sausage, which is cooked first and then flour, milk, and seasonings are mixed with the left-over fat to make a roux sauce that thickens to a thick, oozy consistency. The sausage is then added back in and voilà.
Although the South is the birthplace of this classic meal, it has spread across the country and become a favorite on brunch and breakfast menus everywhere. But one of the best places outside the South to find it is in Portland, Oregon. Many of the Rose City’s earliest settlers and workers came there from the American South seeking opportunity, working either in the lumber industry or in the hotels and dining establishments of the growing city, as well serving the towns and dining cars of the growing railway. And where these workers went, biscuits and gravy followed, and now there are even entire restaurants dedicated to it around town. So Portland really knows its stuff when it comes to biscuits and gravy.
Now, we’re not going to get into the perfect way to make biscuits, because everyone has their own family recipe that they think is best and we’re not going to open up that can of worms (although my grandmothers’ is the best, love you Grandmommy). But we will talk about the best way to make a delicious and hearty sausage gravy that is worthy of those family biscuits. For that, we turned to Judiaann Woo, a Portland-based chef, food writer, brand consultant, and former on-screen culinary personality for the Food Network, Cooking Channel, and more. The Oregonian listed her as one of the top Portland food Instagrams to follow, which is quite an honor in a city that’s as food- and Instagram-obsessed as Portland, and she’s even taught a class on how to take better food pics. With years of experience in the New York and Portland food scenes, she brings us her crowd-pleasing rendition of this timeless classic, which she loves so much that she even named her pets after it: Biscuit the cat and Gravy the dog.
- .5 lb. pork breakfast sausage, bulk or casings removed
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 2 cups milk
- Salt to taste
- Fresh ground pepper to taste
- Pinch of cayenne, optional
- Biscuits, for serving
- Heat a medium-sized fry pan or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Using your fingers, tear off bits of sausage and scatter pieces to cover the entire surface of the pan. Cook sausage, stirring occasionally, until no pink remains, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Sprinkle flour over sausage and stir until flour is no longer white and visible, about a minute. Add milk and bring to a boil, stirring and scraping up any remaining bits of sausage with a wooden spoon. Once mixture starts to thicken, reduce heat and simmer until the consistency is gravy-like. Season to taste with salt and lots of fresh ground paper. Add cayenne if desired.
- Remove from heat and serve over warm biscuits. If at any point the mixture gets too thick, just add a splash of milk and stir to loosen. Sausage gravy can be made ahead and gently rewarmed if necessary.
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